Caring for Composting Worms
Worm-keeping is simple. Eisenia fetida (also called red wigglers or simply referred to as “red worms”) do well with very little maintenance. But remember, you are creating habitat. For composting worms to thrive, here are a few key considerations:
To be healthy, active eaters, redworms need to live where it’s warm, dark and damp. They adapt readily to temperatures between 50-85° Fahrenheit, but work best at temperatures between 60-75°F. Temperatures above 90 degrees or below freezing ( 32°F) may kill them.
Worm bedding must be kept moist. Experts recommend 60%-75% moisture content. Practically speaking, bedding should feel about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. If bedding becomes too wet and compacted, worms will drown. If it’s too dry, they will become dehydrated and have a hard time breathing, since worms respire through their skin.
The worm bin and bedding must allow airflow. You can use shredded office paper, newspaper, chopped cardboard, leaves, coir (coconut fiber), wood chips, garden litter and even dryer lint (if it’s from natural fibers like cotton, not synthetics)and livestock manure. Dried grass clippings are OK, but do not use fresh clippings, as they can quickly heat up and kill your worms. Bedding should be soft and permeable so worms can move and work through it easily. Remember, redworms consume their bedding along with other foodstuffs.
Eisenia fetida eat almost anything: overripe fruits, vegetables, garden waste, moldy bread, refrigerator leftovers, coffee grounds, tea bags, livestock manure, shredded newspaper, napkins, leaves… The key when feeding is to observe how quickly the food disappears and try to maintain a balance. If you overload the worm bin (the #1 mistake), you could run into odor and pest problems, not to mention upsetting the pH of the worm’s environment.
Things to avoid include meat scraps, bones, and dairy products. They’re likely to attract rodents and other pests, and could cause the bin to become rotten and stinky. It’s also important to keep pet feces out of the bin or windrow to prevent disease-causing pathogens from entering the food chain. Limit the amount of citrus you include at any one time, and keep salty or pickled foods out of the bin.
Worms don’t have teeth. They have gizzards, which require grit to grind food. Add a handful or two of soil to the bin. Ground egg shells are also a good addition to the worm bed.
Do Not Disturb
Place your bin in a convenient spot out of the elements where conditions remain relatively constant. Let your worms go to work! We also recommend “Worms Eat My Garbage” by the late Mary Appelhof